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An actual, honest to goodness, real life sales problem has been posted to the ‘completely free sales advice’ – Facebook page. The first in this form, and so thank you to Lynda Swindells for agreeing to let me quote her and discuss her questions in the blog.

I have to say though, that this is probably one of the more regular scenarios I face, so its fitting that it became an official post. Anyway, over to Linda…

“Dear Tony. I love your blog and what you are trying to achieve but I was wondering if you might be able to help me with something I have been struggling with? I am sure this will be relevant to others too which is why I am posting on your wall! One of my biggest problems with marketing is finding my USP, or trying to stand out from my competition. The reason being is, I am a freelance book indexer (I literally write indexes for back of books). Now the problem is, HOW can I stand out from my competition or get a USP when what I do IS the same as any other book indexer? There is no way round it, all book-indexers index books for a fee so how can we be individual and set ourselves apart from each other? I have a fairly well established reputation but I would love to try and gain some new clients, however I need to give them a valid reason why they should chose me over their current indexer, who may have an equally good reputation! If you have any ideas I would love to hear them!”

So, to summarise: How can a business, essentially providing exactly the same service as other businesses, compete? How do we create competitive advantage where none is apparent? Or in Lynda’s words, how can she find her USP (unique selling proposition)?

Well Lynda, There are at least three things you can do about it! Note, these are things that are a) easy to do, but requiring a lot of hard work, and b) won’t cost you loads of money. There are many more clever solutions to your problems I’m sure, and I’m sure there are books and books that have been written about this sort of thing. But in my experience…

1) Create a USP! Find a way of adding value to the service. Usually (but not always) this will mean being ‘price leader’. Be warned – this is a slippery slope for lot of businesses, as they run out of imagination soon after having the idea in the first place. So they cut price, and then wonder where the margins have gone. If you’re going to be price leader, you need to be cost leader too.

Otherwise? Find a category of business you can have a USP in. Eg. In Lynda’s case: Students? / doctors? / technical books? Somewhere where the market isn’t as crowded as where she currently operates.

Option 2) This is probably easier than the above, and that’s to win the ‘share of voice’ battle. The only way to take market share off someone is by out promoting them. Advertise more, more often. You’ll probably find your competition (like most people) are relatively lax about attracting new business so there is often a quick win to be had here. And don’t just think about traditional media, consider your ‘on line’ presence, I would favour working hard on a social media marketing campaign (SMM). In essence, this is about creating a targeted list of followers and providing them with engaging content to ensure they have you and your service at the forefront of their minds. The lists of followers must be constantly updated and ‘cleaned up’ and the content consistent and regular – a tough task in itself.

3) Cheapest of all, but requiring the most work, and related to the above SMM campaign, is to be very careful about who you are targeting, and think hard about where you can find them. Who are they? What do they do? What are they interested in? Once we have found them, we can then go about communicating the message effectively. Usually, as mentioned above, being left alone to do so by the competition, as they sit back waiting for business to come to them! Communicating effectively means communicating consistently, and that means through the normal channels and any other channels you can think of. Gimmicky approaches can work, professional, face to face, email and telephone are all effective. The only thing you can’t afford to do is sit back and wait for the business to come looking for you.

The same theory will apply to any business, especially the niche type Lynda is involved with. She clearly has a good grasp of marketing, and maybe just needs a bit of a push in the right direction.

Lynda responded to the original ideas with the following, really getting to the nitty-gritty of the issue:

“Some really great advice! So, I suppose the underlying theme is persistence! I must admit, it is very easy to send a few emails, not hear anything back and then think, ‘well that didn’t work!’!”

Exactly. As I have said before, the number one reason for a failing business, in my experience, is a lack of focus. The owner / MD / CEO whatever, often knows exactly what is required to win. But for some reason, the trick appears to be having the discipline to stay on plan. Having the discipline to keep facing the same problems and coming up with the same basic fundamental solutions, and effectively having to consistently revisit the same ground over and over.

It can feel like a never-ending and thankless task. But that’s only because that is exactly what it is! Its tough, and repetitive, but failure to do it means failure to win. Can you afford to ignore it any longer?

Trying to reinvent these correct tactics over and over, if only to keep ourselves interested is half the battle. But basic fundamentals like ‘he who shouts loudest, wins’ will always be true.

The sales persons greatest ally is often quoted to be ‘persistence’ or ‘perseverance’. And I have always related this to the ‘sticking to the plan’ concept. Having to do the same activities over and over is hard, especially when, like with winning new business, the task is difficult. It takes a special kind of dedication.

A dedication not everyone has. I think Lynda has it, and I look forward to updating everyone with her feedback!

One other thing, we discussed in more detail what an email strategy might look like for Lynda and how to go about building the targeted followers database. If any is interested in finding out more about these things, I’m sure Lynda won’t mind sharing.

Equally, if you ever need a good book indexer, I know just the girl! Seriously, I’ll put you guys in touch!

Thanks Lynda, hope all this stuff helps.